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RTE | Host your first virtual PI Planning – Things for successful facilitation

Host your first remote PI Planning

Things to know for successful facilitation

Accomplishing your first PI Planning event is a rite of passage. You will learn new things, and hopefully the items below will help your event run a bit smoother. One thing to keep in mind is that everyone who participates in your PI Planning event has a shared experience.

These are a few tips (from experience) pre, during and post-PI Planning.

1. Pre-PI Planning – No Surprises!

Refine the Program Backlog (content readiness)

The time leading up to PI Planning is critical. During this time, you want to make sure your System Architect(s) have all their non-functional requirements (NFR’s) ready and have communicated worked with the Product Manager(s) on their top Features and Enablers. Cross-domains like infrastructure, cloud, datacenter etc. are in alignment with prioritization and dependencies.

Product Managers (with collaboration from Architects and Business Owners) should have their top Features and Enablers ready with a clear Definition of Done (including description, acceptance criteria, in-scope/out of scope). It is important to have at least the top 10 or so Features determined before PI Planning, but what is even more important is having those Features broken-down into stories and reviewed by the Team.

I would suggest setting up a series of events with the Product Team at least 4 weeks in advance of PI Planning. Do not forget to take into account holidays! Additionally, be sure to have a clear agenda (maybe a single Feature at a time or if time is limited, have breakout rooms that people can jump between) and the right people invited to these sessions. Keeps them to a minimum – just think how ineffective a refinement session would be with 50 people on the call? Potentially include: Product Manager(s), Product Owners, Architect, SME’s (subject matter experts), Scrum Master and anyone that may have input to refine the Feature(s).

Organizational readiness

It’s important as an RTE to prep the Product Team (Product Managers, Architects), Business Owners and Leaders so that they are prepared to speak to strategy alignment:

  • Business Owners should be in alignment/agreement with priorities
  • Architects should be prepared to give their vision briefing to communicate new Enablers, Features and NFR(s)
  • Product Manager(s) should be prepared to speak to the product vision briefing including the top Features in the Program Backlog
Logistical (virtual) readiness

SAFe encourages that everyone be together for a face-to-face PI Planning, which requires a lot of thoughtful logistics. Virtual PI Planning is no different, and perhaps a bit harder to plan for. I suggest not “winging it!”

For remote PI Planning here is a checklist of seemingly small things that actually play a huge role in creating a smooth and successful remote PI Planning.

  • Technology: Whatever the tech may be (Zoom, Teams, WebEx etc.) make sure invites are sent well in advance and test them. Double check that everyone has access to collaboration spaces (ie: Team Breakout rooms, Program Boards etc.)
  • Agenda, post your agenda with links to meetings in as many places as you can. I posted the agenda in the meeting invite, on a Wiki page (part of the organizations toolbox) and had access to it at all times because people will ask
  • Team breakout rooms: I like to give the autonomy for Scrum Masters to create separate breakout rooms. However, in a retrospective Team Members of the ART suggested for continuous improvement that we create breakout rooms for easy movement between teams to collaborate (Zoom was the tool utilized). This is great feedback and I encourage it, and for an RTE this will create a little more work on your part. If using Zoom, perhaps give co-host abilities to Scrum Master to help place their Teams in breakout rooms
  • Create a virtual Program Board (Miro or Mural are examples). Of course, this will be dependent on what your organization’s toolbox consists of. Simulate the same setup that you would if you were in person: Program Board (with iteration dates, and area for PI Objectives, Risk/ROAM Board, pre-populate the top Features, post-PI Planning retrospective. Feedback from leadership

2. During PI Planning

The momentum in full force! You’re facilitating and juggling. Facilitating and juggling! Scrum of Scrums, tracking dependencies – you’re like a triage doctor in an ER room – you’re the information radiator! It will not look the same for each organization: there may be one Scrum of Scrum during PI Planning or there may be a Scrum of Scrums every hour in large domains with lots of lots of cross-ART or cross-team dependencies.

There are some critical parts of PI Planning that you want to make sure to have appropriate time available for which include: Management review, ROAMing Risks and confidence vote. Do not skip out on these.

Confidence vote: This can be done in a few ways and is critical to giving everyone the ability to voice their concerns. This should be a safe space and everyone should give their vote. This can be done in a variety of different ways and should not be rushed.

Don’t forget to have a little fun! No doubt, facilitating a PI Planning is daunting, even for the best facilitator. If you add a virtual environment to it – wowza. It’s time consuming, it takes a lot of planning and no one loves sitting in from of a screen for 8-10 hours a day for two days (sometimes it can seem like you are talking to just pictures on a screen). Encourage everyone to turn on their cameras. Perhaps even open with an ice breaker on day two to get everyone’s creative juices flowing (icebreaker example: What is the correct way to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? Do you put the jelly on the bottom? The top? Both slices? The answers are pretty great and you’d be surprised how many people chime in who usually are not totally vocal!).

3. Post-PI Planning (communication, communication!)

The fun is not over yet! PI Planning readouts are important. This can be done in whatever format is preference to your organization (PowerPoint, Jira, Wiki, Confluence – or all of the above). Post-PI Planning communication may include an email with the outcomes (PI Objectives with Business Value (BV), Risks, Dependencies, etc.), it may be a readout with executives that were not able to attend. Make sure that as an RTE that you have communicated the outcomes of PI Planning to the ART.

Additionally, don’t be afraid to hold people accountable. That includes managers and leaders, Business Owners, Product Management and the Teams. In the end, we do this all for the customer!

We plan the right things, at the right time with the right people for the right results.

In conclusion, everyone will be able to think back and remember the chaos, the intensity, the results, and yes, even the fun. Good luck!

Need additional help?

PI Planning can get messy! If you find yourself in a bind, then drop us a line. We'd love to help you with your first PI Planning, or wherever you are on your SAFe journey. Let us know your concerns, and we'll set up with a consultation with an experienced SPC/RTE. We offer affordable, custom-built role-based mentoring, coaching and training to help you in your role.

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